On Friday, Walmart fired its latest salvo in the retail wars, announcing a bizarre scheme where a worker will physically stock your fridge while you watch from afar via livestream. This poses an obvious question: Which company will be the first to baby-bird a chewed-up, eight-ounce steak directly into my mouth, Amazon or Walmart?
A puree of life-sustaining goop syringed into your mouth by a friendly, non-unionized stranger might seem far-fetched now, but recall that two-day shipping was similarly unimaginable before Amazon Prime. Previously either not an option or prohibitively expensive, Amazon made it available for a pittance: just $79 a year! And sure, the cost of a Prime membership has gone up since then, but think about how much it would be worth to never worry about chewing (or accidentally starving) ever again.
Two years ago, Amazon’s chief rival Walmart decided to get in on the two-day shipping game itself, lowering the barrier to entry even further. Scads of trinkets and gewgaws could suddenly be yours in a flash, no membership required, provided you bought at least $35 of them at a time. Amazon countered with one-day Prime shipping last month, and Walmart began offering one-day free shipping just two weeks later.
But speed isn’t the only battlefield these companies are competing on. Amazon has built out a network of 2,800 Lockers, mainly in cities, from which items can be retrieved or returned. And Walmart To Go (now Walmart Grocery) gave customers the option to drive up, pop their trunks, and have employees load groceries directly into their cars. “Why even get in your car in the first place?” Amazon seemed to ask when it announced in-garage and in-home package delivery in April. You see where this is all going, don’t you?
Today, Walmart announced that it will send someone to stuff groceries into your actual fridge while you aren’t home, a service the company is calling “Walmart InHome.” Similar to Amazon Key—which allows an anonymous gig-worker to drop off those smiling cardboard boxes in garages and vestibules—Walmart will require enrollees to buy a special lock that will give drivers entry.
Where InHome differs from Key is that Walmart’s couriers will be wearing body cameras, ones that customers can livestream footage from on their phones during the delivery window.
Yes, this is a real thing, one that was piloted in New Jersey and was apparently successful enough to merit availability now in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Kansas, and Vero Beach, Florida. Walmart didn’t say what the deliveries or the special lock will cost, but, with any luck, this will only be a transitional phase anyway.
Amazon and Walmart’s next move is clear. To reach the logical end-point of employee exploitation and Customer Obsession™, an underpaid contractor must be sent to my exact location to spoon-feed me pre-chewed nutritional paste at an hour’s notice.
It’s your move, warring retail behemoths: The race is on and my food-hole is open.